Police Permit Granted To Burn Torah Scroll
A recent string of public burnings of the Koran in Sweden, where liberal free speech laws permit open desecration of religious symbols, has triggered violent protests and threats of retaliation at Swedish embassies in Iraq and other Muslim countries.
In response, Sweden has raised its terrorism alert last week to the second-highest level. The country’s Security Agency [SAPO] director Charlotte von Essen warned that the higher alert would last for some time, according to Telegraph UK.
“We have gone from being considered a legitimate target to a prioritized target for violent Islamism globally,” she said.
Sweden and neighboring Denmark, which has also witnessed public desecrations of the Koran, have both stepped up border controls and identity checks at crossing points. The terror alert in Denmark is also at the second-highest level.
These late-hour moves did not deter an Iraqi refugee, Salmon Momika, who had already burned copies of the Koran in Sweden earlier this summer, from carrying out a new incitement just a day after the terrorism alert was elevated.
This time, Momika burned a copy of the Koran in front of the Iranian Embassy in the Lidingo district of Stockholm. ‘We stand outside the embassy of murderers and terror,’ he shouted in Arabic and held up the Muslim holy book,” reported local news outlets.
Other Koran-burning stunts were carried out by a group of anti-Islam activists, who have taken advantage of Sweden’s liberal protections for freedom of speech to demonstrate their contempt at prominent sites, including in front of large mosques.
The 57 Muslim countries who are members of the Islamic Cooperation Organization (OIC) were quick to castigate Sweden and call for revenge against the government as well as individuals who carried out the book burnings.
Enraged protesters stormed the country’s embassy in Baghdad ahead of the announced event, mounting the walls and lighting a small fire in the embassy compound. Video footage showed Iraqis waving flags and carrying signs of the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as they advanced on the compound.
Sweden Vilified as Enemy of Islam
Terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp, director of the Swedish Defense University’s Center for Threat Studies, in an interview with a Swedish news outlet The Local, said the country has never been as vilified by Islamic extremists as it is now. News reports quote government officials saying that several terror plots have been thwarted, without offering details.
“Sweden has never before been the focus of a collective narrative painting it as a main enemy of Islam, which is being pushed on a massive level in the Middle East,” he said. “We have gone to being a legitimate target of jihadists, to being a prioritized target,” he warned.
Ranstorp listed the three-page communique from al-Qaida’s central command calling for revenge attacks on Sweden, and similar calls from Hezbollah, Islamic State (ISIS), the Somalian terrorist group “Al-Shabaab.”
“There have been individual members with links to al-Shabaab who have gone down from Sweden to do operations (against Swedish embassies in the Middle East), in addition to members of these groups who attacked the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who drew some of the Muhammad cartoons.”
In 2006, Muslim groups demonstrated their growing international clout when they orchestrated a campaign of boycotts, death threats and economic sanctions to express outrage over what they considered offensive cartoons of Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper.
In particular, one cartoon that showed Muhammed with a bomb in his turban, reinforcing the association of Islam with terrorism, enraged the Muslim world. [See Sidebar]
Ranstorp said that terrorist rhetoric against Sweden had begun at least 18 months ago, when there was a false campaign on Arab language social media about Muslim immigrant children being forcibly taken into care by Sweden’s authorities. This is a sign that Sweden was already gaining a reputation as hostile to Muslims even before the Koran-burnings.
He said that the greatest risks of attacks were to hard-to-defend public areas, gatherings and also the individuals who have carried out Koran-burning protests. “Some of the intercepted directives order the assassinations of actors in these scenarios. The system is sort of blinking red in terms of inciting attacks,” the terrorism expert said.
Swedish Gov’t Gives Green Light To Burn Sefer Torah
The Swedish government says it condemns the burning of religious texts but cannot stop citizens from doing it, as they have a “constitutionally protected right to freedom of assembly, expression and demonstration.”
Swedish authorities have thus approved a protest involving not only applications for public gatherings at which Korans are burned, but petitions for the burning of Torah scrolls and other holy books outside the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm.
A person who applied to hold a public gathering to burn Jewish sacred books in June, several weeks after pages from the Koran were burned in front of a mosque, was granted permission, the Times of Israel reported, drawing harsh criticism from Jewish groups.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said that burning of the Torah, would constitute “a hate crime, a provocation and a serious blow to the Jewish people and its traditions.”
“I call on the Swedish authorities to prevent this despicable event and not to allow the burning of a Torah,” Cohen said. The Foreign Minister said he spoke with Israel’s Ambassador to Sweden Ziv Nevo Kulman and the Foreign Ministry to do everything possible to prevent “this shameful incident.”
Kulman in a statement said, “I utterly condemn the burning of holy books sacred to any religion, as an act of hate and disrespect, that has nothing to do with freedom of expression.
The European Jewish Congress (EJC) said in a press release that they strongly condemned the decision of Swedish authorities, who fail to make a distinction between a peaceful protest and a gathering whose sole purpose is to spit at the sacred traditions of a minority religion.
“Provocative, racist, anti-Semitic and sickening acts such as these have no place in any civilized society,” EJC president Ariel Muzicant said in the statement. “Trampling on the deepest religious and cultural sensibilities of people is the clearest way possible to send a message that minorities are unwelcome and disrespected.”
“These actions, based on contorted and specious free speech arguments, are a disgrace to Sweden and any democratic government worthy of the name should prevent it,” Muzicant added.
The Rabbi of the Kosel Hamaaravi, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, expressed his disgust at Sweden’s twisted liberalism, saying he was “shocked after the Stockholm police approved for the second time to burn a Bible book.”
“In the face of these heinous acts, the Swedish authorities stand weakly, murmuring empty words about freedom that are diminished in the face of such terrible actions – both those committed and those yet to come,” the Rabbi said.
“This is not what freedom looks like; this is what the loss of a moral compass looks like,” he went on. “I am not pleading for the sake of the sacred scriptures. They have been burned countless times by enemies of the Jews, yet no force in the world could destroy them. I am asking for your sake. This is a symbolic ritual of hate. We have seen it before. Beware of this creeping insanity, it leads to death of body, soul, and freedom.”
Although the July 2023 plan to set the sefer Torah ablaze was ultimately canceled—with the would-be perpetrator declaring he never meant to carry out the burning; it was just a “publicity stunt,”—the fact that his application was granted by Swedish police continues to draw outrage.
We’ve Seen this Before
Rabbi Rabinowitz’s remarks recall the mass burning of Torah scrolls and Jewish books across centuries in thousands of cities and towns, culminating in wholesale destruction during the Holocaust.
As Israeli historian Alon Confino wrote in A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination From Persecution to Genocide, the Nazis burned Torah scrolls and holy books on November 9 and 10, 1938 [Kristallnacht]. The destruction of the Torah was at the center of Kristallnacht, when fourteen hundred synagogues were set on fire.
“In Berlin, Germans burned Torah scrolls in front of the Levetzowstrasse synagogue, while others carried the scrolls from the Fasanenstrasse synagogue to Wittenberg Square and burned them there …In a small town in Hessen, Torah scrolls were rolled along the Nikolausstrasse as Hitler Youth rode their bicycles over them,” Confino wrote.
“And in Wurttemberg, a man who picked up Jewish prayer books in the street as an act of respect toward the holy objects, was later hanged publicly on a tree on the road from Steinach to Hall.”
Political Pendulum Swinging in Sweden
The Koran-burning incidents have focused international attention on the surprising shift of the pendulum in Sweden, whereby this bastion of tolerance and liberalism has seen a portion of its population embrace far-right political parties.
Once a marginalized far-right group, the Sweden Democrats with their extreme anti-immigration platform won an unprecedented percentage of the vote in 2022. The pendulum had begun its swing already in 2015, when due to the civil war in Syria, Europe was faced with a wave of largely Muslim refugees.
Over the course of one year, 1.3 million of these people fled to Europe; Sweden took in some 163,000 refugees. Political observers argue that the wave of refugees and asylum seekers—mostly Afghan or Syrian—who entered the country in 2015 have had a destabilizing effect on Swedish society.
With a population of only 10.6 million, Sweden has taken in a larger percentage of recent migrants than any other country in Europe. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says the country is now home to 1.3 million foreign-born residents, 14 percent of the country’s total population.
Sweden has also opened its doors to more than 45,000 Ukrainian refugees. These numbers allowed the far right to expand its political platform, pointing to a link between the immigrants and a rising crime rate and other ills.
Debra Spar of the Harvard Business School writes in “A Liberal Utopia Grapples With an Identity Crisis,” that Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats “tried to do the right thing,” by welcoming migrants. However, the exploding crime rate and inability of many Muslim refugees to integrate into secular Sweden, led to “a tacit consensus that authorities went faster and farther than the country could sustain, so they’ve started to wheel that back.”
Gun Violence in “Utopian” Sweden Catalyzes The Far-Right
Sweden’s historically homogenous population now looks very different from 20 or even 10 years ago. According to state statistics, 25% of the population and upwards of 40% of people under 50 are foreign born or have foreign born parents, writes The Post, quoting Swedish journalist Ivar Arpi.
For Swedish voters who watched rates of gun violence skyrocket in recent years, confronting crime was a central issue in the past [2022 election], the article notes.
When asked about the violence in Sweden, journalist Arpi acknowledges “the grenade violence and the bombs are on the same level as Mexico. People are bombing in the central Uppsala and they’re shooting into regular apartments in affluent areas. We have kids who are being killed at the playground because reckless criminals in Sweden are armed with automatic rifles.”
The rising lawlessness in some Swedish cities has catalyzed electoral support for the Sweden Democrats to the point where they now comprise the second largest political party in the conservative coalition.
This controversial party was created in 1988 out of a neo-Nazi group called Keep Sweden Swedish. Some of the founding fathers had even served in Hitler’s Waffen SS, reported the New York Times.
“Step by step the party changed its image but the core ideology remained: Immigrants should be persuaded to go home, Swedish culture should be protected and neither Jews nor the Sami people were to be considered ‘real Swedes,” the article said.
Political observers note that the shift to extremely conservative or right-wing views is not confined to Sweden but is sweeping across Europe, encompassing Italy, Spain and Finland. Previously on the margins of the political spectrum, far-right parties are now serving in government alongside mainstream right-wing parties in Hungary, Poland and Germany.
This trend is not new, according to Euronews, quoting Cathrine Thorleifsson, the head of the Norwegian Government’s Commission on Extremism. These right wing parties have been increasing their electoral support over the past decade, with immigration and rising crime believed to be the key drivers of the shift to the right.
As in the United States, liberals in Germany, Sweden and other European countries struggling with uncontrolled immigration, refuse to recognize its key role in facilitating drug smuggling, human trafficking and terrorism.
The Danish Cartoon Saga
On September 30, 2005, the conservative Swedish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published 12 illustrations under the heading “The Face of the Prophet Muhammad.”
The reactions over the ensuing months ranged from protests and lawsuits within Denmark and Europe over the newspaper’s alleged offense to Muslims, to riots, boycotts, burned flags, and ransacked embassies abroad.
The political manipulation of these cartoons generated violent unrest that led to over 200 deaths across the Muslim world and showcased the global reach of Muslim rage when harnessed.
Flemming Rose, the Danish newspaper’s editor, said the drawings were not intended to offend and were in keeping with a tradition of satirical cartoons.
“These were not directed against Muslims, but against the culture of cowardice in Europe that suppresses honest critique of some of Islam’s excesses,” Rose said.
But Muslim groups in Denmark, and then across the Middle East, demanded apologies from the newspaper and the Danish and Norwegian governments. The governments refused, saying the newspapers had broken no laws and were exercising their right of freedom of speech and of the press.
On The Rampage
As the diplomatic and economic fallout spread, Saudi Arabia recalled its envoy from Denmark and its religious leaders called for a boycott of Danish products. Across the Persian Gulf, several supermarkets pulled Scandinavian foods off the shelves after consumers complained.
The boycott’s sting was felt deeply. The Danish manufacturer Arla Foods, which normally sells $1.5 million worth of dairy products a day in the region and gives employment to 800 people, announced that its sales there had come to a complete halt. Other Danish companies reported dramatic sales declines as well.
In Dubai, government spokesman Mohammad Danani, walking past an empty shelf where Danish cheeses are usually on display, expressed satisfaction to a UPI reporter.
“We will cut [Danish manufacturers] off 100 percent because there is no respect,” he said. “It’s no longer an issue of apologizing. Now they have to learn their lesson.”
Heeding the danger signals, the Danish Foreign Ministry advised against travel to Saudi Arabia and urged Danes to be cautious in other Muslim countries.
In Gaza, masked Palestinian gunmen stormed a European Union office a day after Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades distributed flyers urging Scandinavian nationals to leave the territories within 72 hours. Gaza protestors fired bullets in the air, chanted anti-Danish slogans and burned Danish and U.S. flags as well as portraits of Rasmussen and U.S. President George W. Bush.
Newspaper Buckles Under Pressure
As Muslim belligerence mounted and the boycott continued to spread, the editors of the Danish newspaper buckled and issued an apology. “The drawings are not against the Danish law but have indisputably insulted many Muslims, for which we apologize,” the newspaper’s statement said.
Relieved, the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said he was “delighted” that the prestigious Jyllands-Posten took an important step “in extending the olive branch.” But he again refused to apologize himself, and defended the freedom of the press.
“The Danish government cannot apologize on behalf of a Danish newspaper. It does not work like that… and we have explained that to the Arab countries. Independent media are not edited by the government,” he said. The Norwegian government took a similar stance.
The newspaper’s apology did little to calm the uproar. The offices of the Danish newspaper were evacuated after a bomb threat at the same time that thousands of Palestinians protested for a second day, saying an apology by the newspaper was not enough and calling for revenge.
Chilling Surveillance Recordings Revealed Murder Plot
Five years later, Danish police shot and wounded a 28-year-old Somali terrorist armed with a knife, who broke into the home of Kurt Westergaard, one of the cartoonists who depicted the Prophet Muhammad in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper 2005, sparking outrage in the Muslim world.
Westergaard and his five-year-old granddaughter, who was staying at the house, sought shelter in a specially made safe room. The would be assassin was tried and convicted of attempted murder.
Seven years after the cartoon incident, a Danish court sentenced four men to 12 years in prison each for plotting a gun attack on the newspaper in revenge for its publication of the controversial Muhammad cartoons. The men, three Swedish citizens and a Tunisian, were arrested in December 2010, just hours before the alleged attack was to take place.
The authorities described the planned attack as the most serious terrorist plot ever uncovered in Denmark. Prosecutors said the men had intended to cause heavy loss of life by opening fire on the offices of the “Jyllands-Posten” newspaper the same day that Crown Prince Frederik was due to visit the paper’s building in Copenhagen.
Surveillance recordings played during the trial showed the four men meeting in Stockholm and discussing martyrdom, by attacking the Jyllands-Posten newspaper and how they should kill as many people as possible inside the building housing the paper and take one hostage.
The recordings revealed them discussing what to do about women and children, whose lives they were going to spare. At a prayer service in Denmark, the men were heard on a tape saying: “When you meet the infidels, cut their throats.”
After serving their sentences, the terrorists were released and expelled from Denmark. Their story stands as an ominous marker of the ability of Muslim terrorist organizations to bide their time for years until the situation has cooled down and their victims’ guards have been lowered–and then strike. A cautionary tale that is likely haunting Swedish authorities.